When we run out of old white men…

Sometime in early November I came across the blog post the usual way. It was tweeted, and the catchy 140 headline made me think, “Whoa, here is somebody with something to say.”

That tweet was: What’s the easiest way to be a Museum Director? Evidently, be a man. There was a link with its crystal blue cryptic temptation.

I clicked on the link that led to the blog, and there it was in all its glory. The author had looked over one Facebook page, The Art Museum Partnership’s page, upon which they do the scrivnin’ of who becomes a director at museums. Big surprise, seventy eight percent of their postings were about some man or another who made it to be a museum director. It was admittedly unscientific, and the author challenged readers to contribute their thoughts about what might be up with that. I resisted the urge to type the obvious. I have been in this business long enough to know a thing or two, yet something about the man in me told me it’d be making myself a big target to speak my mind in the comment section, re-tweet that shit with some kind of snark, or put it on my wall with something witty and smart that only a few of my friends would have appreciated.

People are people, even on the internet, and the path of least resistance works there just like it does anywhere else. Pages like the Art Museum Partnership are full of news that was widely and easily shared. News gathering for a field like museum work is a simple thing, and I do this exact thing for Pennsylvania’s statewide museum association. It’s a big part of my working day to find enough content to share on Facebook, Twitter, and the central tool of my organization, its website. I have saved searches. I have lots of them. I search like a human museum-bot every day for museum jobs in Pennsylvania, museum press releases, and museum trend topics. I have learned this one thing: small museums suck at getting the word out about anything. The Art Museum Partnership, short of accusing whoever is in my shoes behind that page of laziness, tends to take a broader look at the museum landscape. They are looking at bigger searches, and that is sure to yield information from bigger institutions.

What I’m trying to say is that there may be an unusual number of male directors at larger institutions just like there are many, many more men at the heads of for profit corporations, and as the organizations get smaller and the pay scale drops, there will be lots more women than men in the Big Chair. When you get into the more passion/less prestige range of organizations, the volunteer ones with no staff whatsoever, it would probably be 78% women. It could be even more because the median age of these types of organizations is blue haired and widowed. These women make it happen for nothing, the cow and the milk for free, just like their fathers warned them about in 1922.

The education level is also at play here, and the men who run the bigger organizations today are at an advantage over the women who may be in competition for the jobs. Most men don’t have gaps in their experience from caring for children or long periods of under-employment (jobbing down for more time with kids). Sometimes I think the Baby Boomer women should hate the Baby Boomer men more, but they can all go out together as far as I’m concerned. This generation now in the Big Chair is not leaving, not soon enough, and when one leaves, the Trustees are looking for another one just like the last one. This will go on for a while, but it will stop someday. Someday it will have to stop. You can’t have incontinence, rambling alzheimers, and physical inability all over your workplace forever. Dead men can’t run museums, can they?

When it comes to commenting on gender gap, do you know who is the least reliable source? The least reliable source is the person with an ax to grind about the opposite sex. The least reliable source is the one that comes in with an agenda and without an ear to anything beyond that agenda. I didn’t want to comment on the blog. I’m a man. I wouldn’t want to comment publicly on race and museum directorship as a white man, either. There are far too few qualified black candidates for museum work, and too many African American museums have struggled with poor directorship, management, and white shackled resources. The African American community in most places has low expectations of its museums and museum experiences, and rightly so given history’s disappointments. There are people who will bait you on both of these issues, gender and race, and sometimes it’s best just to be a good listener.

Rewrite the tweet: Have what it takes to be a museum director? Evidently be a Baby Boomer.

In ten years, I will still have a B.A. and about twenty years of experience in arts, culture, and museums. I will probably not be a museum director again in my lifetime, and it was odd that I ever was. It was an unusual circumstance. I may be able to work in museums, and it will be a very different world in ten years. My boss will have about twelve or fifteen years of museum experience. She will have an advanced degree in the field, and she will have done some hard time in the trenches. She will have snuck out behind the dumpsters by the loading dock to get high before continuing the endless task of digitalizing all five million pictures in the collection. She will be Gen Y, and she will be a good thing. She might have a management degree, but the degree she got for the thing she really loved will be there to talk about. She will be a good manager, and she will listen politely when I talk about how much the Baby Boomers sucked. She might be black, and I won’t even think twice about it.